Late-Season Learning Lumps With Lanning and Lupoi

DazeNconfused Analysis

In yesterday’s article about Oregon’s defense in 2022, I raised some important questions for us to ponder going forward. Yet it is not complete without this new segment looking back at Oregon’s defense late in the season. It is not critical you read yesterday’s analysis prior to this installment, as they are distinctly different reviews. But I do suggest you take in both to obtain the big picture of this first season of Dan Lanning‘s defense.

In the first half of the OSU game the riddle of Lanning and his Oregon defense started to become clear to me. I watched OSU run the ball with great effect, I saw our linebackers struggling, and the front seven’s pad level wasn’t good. Though we were in Cover-1 with more defenders in the box, the LBs were playing sit and read football. The OSU linemen were going out to engage them in blocks as the aggressor and driving them off the play. Jeffrey Bassa, the smaller pass defense specialist LB, was really being exploited.

It was at this point I knew we needed to adjust at halftime. Those adjustments never came in the second half, and OSU would go on to rush the ball 19 straight times for 159-yards to close out the game.

It then hit me.

Were Tosh Lupoi and Dan Lanning out of their depth? Lupoi who had his play calling duties pulled when he was DC at Bama seemed to have no clue? Or was Lupoi’s hands tied by Lanning’s executive decision on defensive scheme? It appeared, Dan Lanning the ‘genius” defensive mind, had no answers? He was resigned to Brady Hoke‘s hapless 2016 level for the rest of the game?

How could Lanning not have the answers? How could we have overrated his defensive chops so much? Before I answer that, let me explain to you the problems and some of the adjustments the Oregon staff didn’t try.

The Oregon State running game usually had a lot more room to run than this…

The Ducks had two problems. First the LBs were letting the OSU linemen come up field to strike them and engage them as they read the play. And, the defensive linemen in the 4-2-5 scheme engaged the offensive lineman in the two-gap technique while reading the play, and then must shed the block to defend the gap read. The second problem was Oregon’s defensive linemen playing the two-gap technique being stood up when engaged with the OSU offensive linemen while trying to read their gap. The OSU linemen were under their pads, and moving them all off the ball.

The Ducks were getting beat badly in the run game with the 4-2-5 scheme we were using.

You Stop The Run With Penetration

After the Ducks had just picked off the OSU QB twice it was obvious the Beavers were going to run the ball, down 31-10 with 4:46 left in the third quarter. Since OSU was looking to run the ball, the defensive scheme needed to be designed to stop the run.

Penetration can cause a tackle for loss or alter the backs route or timing of when he hits the hole. Now that we know what stops the run game against a team that doesn’t pass, how do you get that penetration?

Solution number one in the base 4-2-5 scheme is you go Cover-1 and you run blitz your LBs into the gaps. If they make it through into the backfield, then go blow the running back up. The next best thing is to be in the gap and meet the back in the hole. If Oregon’s defenders don’t make it through the gap, they strike the guard – stand his butt up and put him into the hole. That’s playing downhill into a running game with momentum!

We needed to turn Noah Sewell (No. 1) loose in run-blitzing.

Noah Sewell is built to do this all day long! I would have pulled Bassa out for a bigger LB and we had three at the time in Jackson LaDuke, Justin Flowe or Keith Brown. By turning them loose downhill–the offensive lineman isn’t able to get out four yards and engage the LBs with momentum. 

Solution number two is we could have gone to a scheme that lets the defensive lineman play a one-gap scheme along with the linebackers. In a one-gap scheme-shooting the gap and the pad level is key, it’s hard for the offensive lineman to square a block up. Instead of engaging head-on and reading two-gaps, the one-gap attack lets the defensive lineman get penetration. It’s much easier to shoot a gap at the snap, than engage an offensive lineman head-on, and then try to shed him after you make your gap read!

The old school one-gap run stopping 4-3 defense set with big linemen is what we should have gone to. We could use Brandon Dorlus as the defensive end to the boundary side to beef up that end. Put Casey Rogers and Jordan Riley in the middle with DJ Johnson as the field end. You can go even bigger and flip Dorlus to the field side end and bring another interior lineman.

In the 4-3, the three LBs I would have used is the big unit of Sewell mixed with LaDuke, Flowe or Brown. We are talking the old school SAM, WILL and MIKE LBs lined up as close as three yards deep off the line of scrimmage. There are lots of variants of the 4-3 – the gold standard was the “46-Bear Defense” of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

There’s the Beef, Folks! Run into That

At this point you are daring the OSU QB to beat you though the air, and you just called checkmate on the Beavers running game. The defensive backs will be in man-to-man and OSU might decide to pass, but you’ve forced them to with a QB who was terrible. Also, OSU can’t bank on running a deep route and the QB having time to pass with the one-gap penetration. The OSU line would have had to adjust on the fly from trying to block a two-gap scheme to a one-gap. Lastly, we could have even gone Cover-Zero with no deep safety and stacked 11-men within eight-yards of the line of scrimmage.

Why didn’t Oregon make the Beavers try to win through the air?

The key point is we had adjustments we could make to shut down the Beavers run game. We could vary our personal sets and looks. We didn’t have to sit in a 4-3 the whole time, we could mix in the base 4-2-5 set. We could run blitz in the 4-2-5 on first down to get OSU behind the chains, a key element to stopping a team’s run game. My call would have been sitting in one-gap with the 4-3 and make OSU adjust by going to the pass. Make OSU beat us with something that isn’t their bread and butter. The Beavers only completed six passes all game, thus I’d take my chances in the one-on-one outside matchups on the WRs.

Why did Lanning just sit there whistling Dixie and not try to get his LBs in his base defense downhill? Worse yet he didn’t change his personnel and sets; it’s as if he couldn’t see the simple answers to shut down the running game of a one-dimensional offense?

How could that be so? Well Lanning’s three years were spent in a system that Kirby Smart a former DC had already built. The talent was elite and developed before they go onto the field for Georgia. Lanning had five first round draft picks on his defense last year. Perhaps Lanning didn’t have to diagnose, and make in game adjustments because the defense was so good?

Can I go so far as to say Dan Lanning’s defensive mind and skills were flattered by the Georgia talent and system? Is Lanning overrated and still has lots to learn? I can tell you if I was one of his assistants on his sideline, I’d have been screaming at him to do the things I laid out.

I was texting my Duck buddy during the game and have the screenshots to prove I was calling out Bassa in the first half. I texted him wanting run blitzes before we went up 31-10. We all know how things went from there.

If I can figure this stuff out, then what the heck is wrong with Lanning and Lupoi?

Lanning and Lupoi still have a ton to figure out.

What if Answers to my Questions are JUST as Troubling? 

What if Lanning and Lupoi made no adjustments because all we have installed is the base 4-2-5 scheme? What if they felt the players couldn’t switch from our scheme built for defending the spread offenses of today? Maybe they felt we would make more mistakes and things would be just as bad?

Well wait a minute – didn’t we know we were facing an OSU team that was run heavy with a backup QB?

The old school 4-3 run stopping run defense is one of the most basic formations a coach can run! Why wouldn’t Lanning spend time in the practice week to install a token 4-3 run defense in case it was a needed adjustment? Why would we not have a one-gap penetrating scheme option? We showed a 4-3 set once the week before against Utah, but was I assume that it wasn’t a one-gap call but more an extra LB into the underneath pass coverage call.

As Charles would often tell us, “we are not suck-ups to the Oregon coaches, and we will do Critical Analysis that other sites will not.” I would hope that Oregon fans understand that I am asking these questions because I am an intense Duck fan as so many of you are.

This is quite a bit to process, and let’s do it all together at the Our Beloved Ducks forum!

Portland, Oregon
Top Photo by Nancy Paiva

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